If you’re a good swimmer, you can make excellent time across the water. You can perfect your stroke, become fit and strong, learn to hold your breath for many strokes at a time. When the waves are small, you can catch the glint of the setting sun as your fingertips trail across your steady breath. You feel at one with the ocean.

And then when you’re headed towards shore, a big wave comes along and rolls you up over the falls and slams you into the sand. You tumble and sputter, your air is gone, up and down disappear into a rush of noise and bubbles. You surface and gasp and turn just in time to get rocked by the next one.

What happened? You’re such a good swimmer. Everything was so nice a moment ago.

You didn’t pay attention to what was happening around you. To the larger forces and currents moving towards and away. Focus long enough on your perfect stroke, and eventually you’ll get rocked by the waves.

So you accept where you are, you surrender. The next wave comes, you breathe in, and you let yourself sink under it, looking up and watching the curling wall of water pass over you.

You check the shore and notice you’ve been drifting with the current. Do you swim back against it in the surf?

I spent my 20s trying to run the show. Constantly trying to figure out what I needed to do, where I needed to go, who I needed to know. Need, need, need.

When I felt particularly overwhelmed someone would eventually tell me to surrender. To what? To where? To whom? How, how, how?

Letting go isn’t about letting all questions and effort dissolve. There is a place for questions, for effort, for our will.

Letting go is about noticing the forces around us and working with them. Instead of doggedly swimming against the current in the middle of the surf, we can choose how we spend our energy. We can watch as the waves pass over our heads and swim out past the surf before trying to change out direction. And if we’re wise, we might choose to swim with the current, knowing that where we end up will always be more interesting when our effort is aligned and multiplied by the forces around us.

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